May is stroke awareness month – the perfect time to learn how you can best protect yourself from this common, but preventable disease.
According to Wake Forest Baptist Health–Lexington Medical Center stroke director, Amy Guzik, MD, being aware of your personal risk factors for stroke can be lifesaving.
“A stroke can happen quickly and change your life instantly,” said Guzik. “Being educated about the disease and knowing what to look for and how to respond can lower your risk and even save your life.”
A stroke happens when blood clotting or bleeding prevents blood flow to the brain and causes cognitive, vision and speech deficits that can permanently affect health and quality of life. According to the American Stroke Association, someone in the United States suffers a stroke every 40 seconds, and someone dies of stroke every four minutes.
“Everyone knows that a heart attack comes with pain, but since a stroke doesn’t hurt, the warning signs are often overlooked,” said Guzik. “Many people shake off signs of stroke, thinking they slept funny the night before or are having a bad day, but it’s important to take the signs seriously and get to the hospital as soon as possible.”
Dr. Guzik said remembering the acronym FAST (Face, Arm, Speech, Time to call 911) can help spot warning signs of stroke. Facial changes or drooping, leg or arm weakness, changes in speech like slurring or difficulty forming words, or having dizziness, imbalance or vision changes, all indicate a stroke.
She also said it is important to know the major stroke risk factors, including:
- High blood pressure
- Being overweight
- Poor diet
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Atrial fibrillation (a heart rhythm disorder that causes irregular heart beat)
- Migraine with aura (a funny feeling before migraine)
- Sleep apnea (snoring at night or waking up gasping for breath)
Guzik recommends that anyone who is experiencing any warning signs of a stroke should call 911 immediately or visit the nearest emergency department. Getting medical help immediately is critical, as most treatments are needed within three to four hours after symptoms start.
Lexington Medical Center is part of Wake Forest Baptist’s Telestroke Network, a service which provides 24-hour access to Wake Forest Baptist’s stroke experts for patients at 20 community hospitals across North Carolina.